Feasibility analysis of large length-scale thermocapillary flow experiment for the International Space Station

Samantha J Alberts, Purdue University


The investigation of microgravity fluid dynamics emerged out of necessity with the advent of space exploration. In particular, capillary research took a leap forward in the 1960s with regards to liquid settling and interfacial dynamics. Due to inherent temperature variations in large spacecraft liquid systems, such as fuel tanks, forces develop on gas-liquid interfaces which induce thermocapillary flows. To date, thermocapillary flows have been studied in small, idealized research geometries usually under terrestrial conditions. The 1 to 3m lengths in current and future large tanks and hardware are designed based on hardware rather than research, which leaves spaceflight systems designers without the technological tools to effectively create safe and efficient designs. This thesis focused on the design and feasibility of a large length-scale thermocapillary flow experiment, which utilizes temperature variations to drive a flow. The design of a helical channel geometry ranging from 1 to 2.5m in length permits a large length-scale thermocapillary flow experiment to fit in a seemingly small International Space Station (ISS) facility such as the Fluids Integrated Rack (FIR). An initial investigation determined the proposed experiment produced measurable data while adhering to the FIR facility limitations. The computational portion of this thesis focused on the investigation of functional geometries of fuel tanks and depots using Surface Evolver. This work outlines the design of a large length-scale thermocapillary flow experiment for the ISS FIR. The results from this work improve the understanding thermocapillary flows and thus improve technological tools for predicting heat and mass transfer in large length-scale thermocapillary flows. Without the tools to understand the thermocapillary flows in these systems, engineers are forced to design larger, heavier vehicles to assure safety and mission success.




Collicott, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Aerospace engineering|Plasma physics

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